Alberta’s palaeontological resources (fossils) became legally protected on July 5, 1978 when they were added to the province’s Historical Resources Act (HRA). This is the legislation and its associated regulations that we use to preserve and protect Alberta’s plentiful fossils.
I will discuss the finer details of Alberta’s fossil legislation and protection strategies in future posts, but for now, I’ll provide an overview of the palaeontological aspects of the HRA and the associated regulations. It should be noted that Alberta’s HRA is a broad piece of legislation that protects several types of historic resources, but this post is limited to how the Act relates to fossils.
Historical Resources Act
The Historical Resources Act is the primary piece of legislation used to protect fossils (and other historic resources) in Alberta. Probably the most significant part of the HRA is that it makes all fossils, within Alberta, property of the Crown in Right of Alberta. Essentially, all fossils found in Alberta, whether on private or public land, are Crown-owned resources, managed and protected by Alberta Culture on behalf of Albertans.
Some of the highlights of the HRA as it relates to palaeontology are:
1) It provides a legal definition of a palaeontological resource.
2) It provides the authority for Alberta Culture to designate significant palaeontological sites as Provincial Historic Resources (e.g., the Grande Cache Dinosaur Tracksite and the Devil’s Coulee Dinosaur Egg Site are Provincial Historic Resources).
3) It requires that anyone who wants to excavate fossils must first obtain a Permit to Excavate Palaeontological Resources from Alberta Culture.
4) It requires anyone who encounters fossils while conducting an excavation to contact Alberta Culture (via the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology) to report the discovery.
5) It restricts the export of fossils from Alberta.
6) It makes it unlawful to alter, mark, or damage a fossil found in Alberta.
7) It allows Alberta Culture to require further studies or assessments if an activity (e.g. pipelines, mines, roads, etc.) is likely to impact fossils.
8) It sets out penalties, a maximum $50,000 fine and/or one year in jail, for anyone convicted of contravening the Act.
Follow this link to see the Historical Resources Act on the Alberta Queen’s Printer’s website.
Archaeological and Palaeontological Research Permit Regulation
The Archaeological and Palaeontological Research Permit Regulation sets out the requirements and expectations for individuals applying for a Permit to Excavate Palaeontological Resources. The main point of this regulation is that a permit to excavate for fossils can only be issued to an individual with a post-graduate degree in palaeontology, or closely related discipline.
Follow this link to see the Archaeological and Palaeontological Research Permit Regulation on the Alberta Queen’s Printer’s website.
Dispositions (Ministerial) Regulation
Unlike the Archaeological and Palaeontological Research Permit Regulation, the Dispositions (Ministerial) Regulation is directly applicable to some aspects of amateur and commercial fossil collecting in Alberta.
Perhaps one of the most important items in the Regulation is the Control List in Schedule 1. The Control List formalizes the four types of fossils that the Crown can transfer ownership (dispose) to individuals. This list applies only to fossils collected after July 5, 1978 and includes 1) ammonite shell, including all gemmological by-products of ammonite shell 2) oyster shell, 3) petrified wood and 4) fossil leaf impressions.
The Regulation provides a mechanism for the Crown to:
1) Provide certificates of ownership to individuals with fossil collections made prior to July 5, 1978.
2) Transfer ownership of legally collected Control List fossils.
3) Transfer custodianship of fossils from the Crown to an individual.
Also of interest, the Regulation sets out the criteria that an individual must meet to legally collect ammonite shell in Alberta.
Find more information on the Disposition (Ministerial) Regulation on the Alberta Queen’s Printer’s website.